Start Up No.1892: Meta launches new VR headset (and legs), GPT-3 writes for you, the missing Apple Watch workouts, and more

Spam meat in paradise
In India, spam from businesses has begun to make WhatsApp unbearable for some users. (Image: Diffusion Bee interpreting “spam meat in paradise”.)

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Incapacitorated. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

WhatsApp is now a spammers’ paradise in India • Rest Of World

Nilesh Christopher:


Meta’s WhatsApp is wildly popular in India, with around 550 million users in the country. Over the past year, the company has aggressively expanded its WhatsApp Business services in the country, allowing brands to reach out to customers, offer support, receive payments, and even verify documents. Direct access to customers over WhatsApp is an exciting proposition for Indian businesses since a reported 80% of messages sent on the app are seen within five minutes, making the platform an incredibly more efficient outreach channel than email or SMS.

The unchecked rise of spam has, however, meant that the messaging platform that was once seen as a private and intimate space to communicate with friends and family now feels like a busy main street crowded with hawkers, at least 10 regular users of the app told Rest of World. “It’s honestly such a frustrating experience now that WhatsApp has its business section. It feels like harassment tbh,” Rao wrote to Rest of World. “WhatsApp doesn’t really feel very personal anymore. I wish there was a legal way to fight this.”

“Every fucking thing Zuck [Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO] touches is forever ruined,” wrote Deepak Mehta, who works in tech, shared his irritation on Twitter. “WhatsApp used to be so good. Now every 2nd message is from a random corporate account I never gave permission to spam my inbox. Fuck you, you slithering lizard.”

WhatsApp did not respond to specific questions on the rise of spam. “As we continue to connect people with the businesses they value most on WhatsApp, it’s important that messages sent through our service are helpful and expected,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in an email statement to Rest of World. “We offer features and tools to give people control over their conversations and take action when businesses send messages they don’t want to receive.


Thankful that nothing like this is happening (yet?) in the UK. Presumably if WhatsApp was a lot more popular in the US, this would be completely standard.
unique link to this extract

The bizarre duality of Meta’s new Quest Pro VR headset • Wired

Lauren Goode:


The Meta Quest Pro apps shown off during press demos last week were a mixed bag. The color pass-through imagery—the information about the real world being taken in by the cameras mounted on the outside of the device—sometimes appeared aberrated at the edges. Using Horizon Workrooms, Meta’s app for conducting business in VR, felt awkward. (Some of Meta’s own employees are reportedly skeptical of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s broad vision for the metaverse, and are using Meta’s Horizon software less than expected.) Zuckerberg, in his keynote today, tried to position the metaverse as people-centered, rather than app-centric, because of the potential for social interactions. But social experiences rely on broader adoption of these virtual worlds. 

The new Meta Quest Pro also costs $1,499, which might come as the biggest surprise. This is not a headset that’s accessible to most consumers, nor is VR in general far along enough to compel them to spend that much on a headset. The Meta Quest Pro is Meta’s attempt to prove that it can build this next generation of virtual reality computers, that real-time social interactions are possible in VR.

The result is a paradoxical computing platform, one that is technologically advanced and has the ability to catapult users into the virtual reality future, but still may not be the device to make VR totally mainstream. It is both a virtual reality and “mixed reality” headset. It’s a great escape from reality, but a good reminder that physical presence is better. Its apps are fun, but sometimes glitchy. The headset, which looks like a pair of high-end ski goggles, is comfortable at first; it also leaves a deep impression on your forehead after extended use.


unique link to this extract

Meta figured out legs for its Horizon avatars • The Verge

Jay Peters:


Legs are “probably the most requested feature on our roadmap,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the company’s Connect event while showing off the new avatars, which look significantly better than the avatars available now. (Imagine the improved avatar Zuckerberg showed after his current-gen avatar got memed on but in motion.) “But seriously, legs are hard, which is why other virtual reality systems don’t have them either.”

According to Zuckerberg, the company started off with avatars that don’t feature an entire body because it has been challenging for a VR headset to accurately estimate where things like your elbow or legs actually are. If the system had them show up inaccurately in VR, that would break the immersion.

For arms, Meta has gotten better at figuring out what those body parts are doing as tracking and predictive technologies have improved. Legs can be tricky because of occlusion, Zuckerberg said. If your legs are under a desk, for example, it’s hard for a standalone VR headset to figure out what they might be doing because the desk is blocking the view of the on-headset cameras. Instead, to be able to represent legs, Meta has built an AI model to predict the position of your whole body.

Avatar legs will be coming first to Meta’s Horizon social VR platform, though it’s unclear exactly when. They’ll be coming to “more and more experiences over time as we improve our technology stack,” Zuckerberg said. During the Connect event, they seemed to move quite naturally, though because it was a prerecorded video, we’re not sure yet how they’ll look in practice.


In some ways, having the legs will be even more distracting and weird. At least being Weebles meant that it showed this was for office work.
unique link to this extract

Article/Text Generator • GPT-3 AI Powered


Have GPT-3 generate an article or other content (including marketing pieces!), uniquely for you!

Need help with your next blog post? Want to generate a unique article for your website?
Need a unique article for your marketing campaign? This tool is for you!

For quality results, please try to be as specific as possible with your prompt.


The page is littered with AdWords ads, which implies that the creator expects it to get a fair amount of passing traffic. (Try giving it the prompt “a collection of links and extracts from web pages interspersed with commentary”. I don’t feel threatened. Yet.)
unique link to this extract

Facebook winds down its newsletter service • The New York Times

Katie Robertson:


Facebook is shuttering its Bulletin subscription service, ending its attempt to compete with Substack and other newsletter services.

Facebook, which is now part of the parent company Meta, has contacted writers within the program to tell them that the Bulletin platform will be wound down early next year.

“Bulletin has allowed us to learn about the relationship between creators and their audiences and how to better support them in building their community on Facebook,” the company confirmed in a statement on Tuesday. “While this off-platform product itself is ending, we remain committed to supporting these and other creators’ success and growth on our platform.”

The program began in June last year, aiming to attract independent writers when more were looking to leave publications and have a direct relationship with their readers and take home all of their own revenue. It was looking to mimic the success that Substack, another newsletter platform, had with enticing writers to build their own newsletter brands.

A note at the time from executives said Bulletin would support writers with a suite of publishing and subscription tools, as well as services like legal resources and design.


Included Malcolm Gladwell whose newsletter was (as Ryan Broderick pointed out) apparently less popular than skateboarding dogs etc that forms the most popular content on Facebook (“now part of parent Meta”, yeah sure). Benedict Evans comments that we really don’t know how big a business newsletters really are. I’d say they’re definitely a zero-billion dollar industry.
unique link to this extract

Lesser-known Apple Watch workouts • Basic Apple Guy

The anonymous guy:


I have been wearing my Apple Watch for years to track my steps and workouts. As a result, I have logged millions of steps and hundreds of cycling & strength training exercises to date. And for those types of activities, the Apple Watch shines. It has dozens of workout options ranging from outdoor runs and traditional strength training to archery, fitness gaming, and tai chi.

But what was missing were workouts that captured the true milieu of what happens during a life, tasks that we humbly perform each day that don’t get the credit for helping us close our rings that they deserve.

The project started in early August and became a running collection of posts titled “Lesser known Apple Watch Workouts.” This post is a collection of the first (but not the last) series of lesser-known Apple Watch workouts. Enjoy.


I particularly like Cable Management:


Part core, part endurance, part upper body, part lower body. Is there anything a round of cable management doesn’t strengthen? And not only does it test the body, but it also tests the mind. After all, you’re putting yourself and your body into places and positions nobody should ever be in. It’s basically the land equivalent of cave diving.


Very, very true.
unique link to this extract

Damien Hirst burns his own art after selling NFTs • BBC News

Steven McIntosh:


Damien Hirst has begun burning hundreds of his own artworks after selling a series of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

The artist told buyers who bought pieces from his latest collection to choose either the physical artwork or the NFT representing it. Those who chose the NFTs were told their corresponding physical piece would be destroyed.

Asked how he felt to be burning the works, Hirst said: “It feels good, better than I expected.” The artist was dressed in silver metallic boiler-suit trousers and matching fire safety gloves as he collected each piece and burned it in a contained fire box. It has been estimated the works being burned are collectively worth almost £10m.

Hirst launched his first NFT collection last year, called The Currency, which was made up of 10,000 NFTs, corresponding to 10,000 original pieces of art. Collectors who bought one had to choose between keeping the NFT or swapping it for the physical artwork. London’s Newport Street Gallery said 5,149 buyers opted for the original artworks while 4,851 chose the NFTs.

Artworks for the non-exchanged NFTs would be destroyed, buyers were informed, with Hirst telling his Instagram followers earlier this week that he would burn the first 1,000 artworks on Tuesday. The NFTs, which depicted colourful spots, reportedly sold for $2,000 (£1,800) each.

Livestreaming the event, the Turner Prize winner and assistants used tongs to deposit individual pieces stacked in piles into fireplaces in the gallery as onlookers watched.


As Matt Levine put it in his newsletter: you could pay £2,000 to have a Damien Hirst work, or pay £2,000 to not have a Damien Hirst work, or you could not pay £2,000 to not have a Damien Hirst work. (Also, the Damien Hirst works are now more valuable by virtue of being rarer.)
unique link to this extract

People still seem to think their cars are fully self-driving • The Register

Richard Currie:


the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study of 600 motorists who regularly engage systems like GM’s Super Cruise, Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist, and Autopilot (200 of each) found that “they were more likely to perform non-driving-related activities like eating or texting while using their partial automation systems than while driving unassisted.”

Just over half of Super Cruise users, 42% of Tesla owners, and 12% of ProPILOT Assist drivers “said that they were comfortable treating their vehicles as fully self-driving.”

Despite the Autopilot branding, Tesla covers its behind by insisting the system should only be used by attentive drivers with hands on the wheel. It has a lockout feature that disables Autopilot if the user is deemed not to be paying attention, and Super Cruise does the same. Alarmingly, 40% of those using these drive assist systems admitted they had been kicked out for good.

“The big-picture message here is that the early adopters of these systems still have a poor understanding of the technology’s limits,” said IIHS president David Harkey. “But we also see clear differences among the three owner populations. It’s possible that system design and marketing are adding to these misconceptions.”

The IIHS said Super Cruise ads focus on hands-free capabilities while Autopilot “implies Tesla’s system is more capable than it really is.” This correlates with the lower number of users relying on ProPILOT Assist, the name of which makes it clearer to the driver that it is only an aid.

Gender may have also influenced the results. “The majority of Super Cruise and Autopilot owners were male, while both sexes were more or less equally represented among ProPILOT owners,” said the IIHS. “Most Super Cruise owners were over 50, Autopilot owners tended to be younger (a quarter of them were under 35), and ProPILOT Assist owners were more evenly distributed across the age range.”


Soooo… the problem is male drivers, basically?
unique link to this extract

Why Europe’s defense industry can’t keep up • POLITICO

Ilya Gridneff:


Simply put, there just aren’t enough bullets, weapons and hi-tech systems in Europe to match the EU’s demands and looming dangers ahead. And the demand is high — since the war broke out in February, EU countries have pledged to spend more than €230bn to modernize their arsenals. 

The reason for the sudden influx of cash is not just Russia’s revanchism. There is also a push from many powerful European countries to ensure the Continent does not have to rely on the US military — or the powerhouse US defense industry — to defend its own borders. The recent Russian mobilization, nuclear threats and suspected gas pipeline sabotage have only heightened the local nature of these threats.

“We hear from US colleagues, actually advice,” said Jiří Šedivý, head of the European Defense Agency (EDA), an EU agency that is trying to help countries team up on defense purposes. “‘Invest in your own strategic enablers, because there might come a time, and it could be pretty soon, when actually, we, the US, might be engaged fully elsewhere in Asia-Pacific and we will be simply unable to support you.’”

In response, European defense firms are trying to play catch up, intensifying production and their own capabilities. But many European contracts have still been going abroad to places like the U.S. and even South Korea.

“As a company, we are investing hundreds of millions now in making sure that we can meet the demand,” said Micael Johansson, CEO of the Swedish defense firm Saab, whose shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, called NLAWs, have been critical for Ukraine.

But Europe’s security challenge presents a typical EU problem: success hinges on aligning the self-interests of 27 member states. Failure to do so, some argue, will only allow conflicts to fester.


OK, but Russia really can’t keep up. Though the broader point is that the European arms industry is used to manufacturing during peacetime (uh, no surprise) and has been caught on the hop by people actually firing thousands of rounds per day.
unique link to this extract

The EU wants to put companies on the hook for harmful AI • MIT Technology Review

Melissa Heikkilä:


The new liability bill would give people and companies the right to sue for damages after being harmed by an AI system. The goal is to hold developers, producers, and users of the technologies accountable, and require them to explain how their AI systems were built and trained. Tech companies that fail to follow the rules risk EU-wide class actions.

For example, job seekers who can prove that an AI system for screening résumés discriminated against them can ask a court to force the AI company to grant them access to information about the system so they can identify those responsible and find out what went wrong. Armed with this information, they can sue. 

The proposal still needs to snake its way through the EU’s legislative process, which will take a couple of years at least. It will be amended by members of the European Parliament and EU governments and will likely face intense lobbying from tech companies, which claim that such rules could have a “chilling” effect on innovation. 

In particular, the bill could have an adverse impact on software development, says Mathilde Adjutor, Europe’s policy manager for the tech lobbying group CCIA, which represents companies including Google, Amazon, and Uber.  

Under the new rules, “developers not only risk becoming liable for software bugs, but also for software’s potential impact on the mental health of users,” she says. 

Imogen Parker, associate director of policy at the Ada Lovelace Institute, an AI research institute, says the bill will shift power away from companies and back toward consumers—a correction she sees as particularly important given AI’s potential to discriminate. And the bill will ensure that when an AI system does cause harm, there’s a common way to seek compensation across the EU, says Thomas Boué, head of European policy for tech lobby BSA, whose members include Microsoft and IBM. 


Interesting, but plenty of room for a slip between cup and lip.
unique link to this extract

Analysis: UK’s gas imports would be 13% lower if it had not ‘cut the green crap’ • Carbon Brief

Simon Evans:


The UK’s gas imports would be 13% lower if successive Conservative-led governments had not “cut the green crap” over the past decade, Carbon Brief analysis shows.

The findings come as the government’s North Sea Transition Authority announces a new licensing round for North Sea oil and gas, with the stated aim of increasing UK energy security. The analysis also follows news that the UK is at risk of blackouts if imports of gas and electricity are restricted.

Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that UK gas imports would have been cut by 65 terawatt hours (TWh) if government support for energy efficiency and renewables had continued, instead of being rolled back after then-prime minister David Cameron told ministers in 2013 to “cut the green crap”.

This saving would have been nearly twice as large as the 34TWh imported from Russia last year. It would have been sufficient to cut the UK’s net gas imports by 13% overall, significantly boosting energy security. The saving would have avoided buying 65TWh of gas at a cost of around £5bn.

Most of the savings would have been from additional onshore wind and solar capacity, which would have cut UK gas demand for electricity by 20%.


So many bad decisions in the past about energy. Didn’t build nuclear power stations. Didn’t insulate homes. Didn’t build onshore wind. Just amazing.
unique link to this extract

• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1892: Meta launches new VR headset (and legs), GPT-3 writes for you, the missing Apple Watch workouts, and more

  1. Hey there! The GPT-3 site is my little pet project.

    I appreciate the highlight, and the criticism on the ads. It was in hopes to offset potential costs, but I haven’t felt right about it.

    I’ve removed them, and will ponder better ways to potentially offset the cost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.